Oct 11 2012 4:30pm

Unbuttoning the Men: M/M Historical Romances

A book requires some serious conflict or the story heads to dullsville. Let’s face it, no struggle beats this one: You risk your life just by loving that other person.

The risk partners faced was the first thing that attracted me to gay historical romance. Love is more important than safety to those characters.

That kind of danger is cool, but it doesn’t fill whole books over and over. Nor does the “woe is me, I am a deviant” internal conflict of people born into a time when homosexuality was considered evil.

I asked other readers of gay historical fiction why they liked it so much. The people I asked are experts because not only do they read book after book in the genre, but they write it.

Erastes says, “I find it much more absorbing to have two men, because they often (although not always) are equal in personality and status. It's also very interesting when they aren't too…when the class of the protagonists isn't equal, even a little bit, it can create a conflict that simply wouldn't be an issue in contemporary fiction, particularly those set in America. A master and servant, a rich man with his own fortune and someone who has to earn his own living…”
Erastes also likes the ease with which characters can interact “If one is reading a hetero historical (that's accurate!) your female character can't be alone in a room or a carriage or even on a walk with a male without there being some problems, but two men—even strangers—can walk about, share a carriage—even at night, share a bedroom, share a bed perfectly platonically without anyone's character being irretrievably lost.”

Charlie Cochrane comments, “For me as reader, I like the interaction between two strong characters. I read very little het romance (or watch romantic comedies), because I generally end up wanting to slap somebody—usually the female—for being drippy or doing something completely daft. You know, 'I've been told to stay hidden in this safe cellar so what I do is follow the hero without him knowing and end up being chased aross a field by Nazis, wearing (me, not the Nazis) a backless evening gown and high heels.' I do like strong heroines (Agatha Troy, Elizabeth Bennett) who stand up and are equal to their partners…Good m/m fiction gives me that.”

Lee Rowan says, "I like historical fiction. If it's done well, a story can teach more history - painlessly - than any lecture. I enjoy learning about other times, even though they do tend to repeat. (We're at the Robber Baron stage, I think). I like m/m because I don't like manipulation and mind games, and most historical women who were able to achieve anything had to not only be good at something, they had to play a bunch of boring, stupid, infuriating games just to get on the playing field. Having lived such nonsense, I don't look for it in my recreational reading …Jane Austen was a five-star writer, but I'd have gone berserk if I'd had to live as her heroines do.”

Alex Beecroft (who wrote one of my recent favorites, False Colors) comments, “I identify with male characters who also find men attractive—this way I get a character I can identify with, and a love interest I can find sexy. I like historicals because the past is another country and I do like exotic settings where everything is interestingly different from my modern day life.”

The authors can come up with fine reasons, but let’s not forget the details. As Erastes says, “the buttons. Oh GOD the buttons!” Sure enough, readers can be drawn to the history and the danger and the realization of love, but don’t forget the details. Gay historicals means more delicious clothing on hot men.

Some of the other authors I love to read: Mary Renault, Elin Gregory, Ava March, Tamara Allen, Bonnie Dee on her own (and, no big surprise, I enjoy the m/m historicals she writes with me, Summer Devon).

Do you read m/m historicals?


Kate Rothwell writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. She lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can out more about her at and

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1. HJ
I do read m/m historicals, mainly for the reasons set out above, and I like all the authors quoted. (I also enjoy m/m contemporaries, especially mysteries.)

Erastes explains very well why m/m works particularly well for historical novels, the fact that the degree of interaction between the two main characters is (or should be) much more limited if one of them is a woman. On the other hand, the very serious consequences if they were discovered adds a real edge to all m/m historicals and makes an HEA very difficult, so what you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts.

There tends to be more interesting detail of how men worked in different professions than is usual in m/f romances (which tend to be restricted to the aristocracy whose only work is managing their estates). This can be fascinating for those interested in history.

But, as you say, let's not forget that there are less high-minded reasons for reading m/m! Two men for the price of one...
Jasmine Ray
2. JassyBaby
Hmmmm....I've never read 'historical' anything, and this sounds like something I'd be verrrrry interested in reading. Thank you for the article! I'll check these authors out!
Vanessa Ouadi
3. Lafka
I love M/M historicals. Ok, I love M/M romance anyway, but the historical background give roots to more angst, more taboo, more challenge. I especially enjoyed Ava March's Bound series, first of because Oliver and Vincent do not rank the same on the social scale, which gives room to interesting developments and ego issues. They are also both very aware of how the world would react should they be discovered and thus struggle to find a modus vivandi. That was very interesting _ not to mention smothering hot, jajaja!
4. barbara felgate
Hi Kate, I do not read m/m historicals. It is not my cup of tea. I write romantic historical suspense with strong female characters. I will admit I am curious. I read almost anything put in front of my face. I have even admitted to finding the dictionary interesting. So many words to play with. Barbara writing as Helene Wallis
5. Mary Castillo
I've really enjoyed M/M historical romances, especially the series by Samantha Kane. She features M/M/F love stories that are hot, emotionally driven and very well written.
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